Work on Waimea Community Dam funding continues

9 August 2018

The Tasman District Council will continue to work on options for closing a funding gap of $26 million for the Waimea Community Dam, after receiving an update on the project at its meeting today.

Chief Executive Janine Dowding outlined progress on the various work underway for the dam, which includes a Local Bill to seek access to DOC land for the dam reservoir and completion of the detailed design. The Council has made an application for $18 million from the Provincial Growth Fund, and is working closely with its joint venture partners Waimea Irrigators Ltd and Crown Irrigation Investments Ltd to find a solution to the funding shortfall.

The dam remains the Council’s preferred option for solving the acute summer water shortages affecting Richmond, Brightwater, Wakefield, Mapua and rural communities of the Waimea Plains, and improving the health of the Waimea River to meet the Council’s obligations under the Resource Management Act, Local Government Act and the National Policy Statement for Freshwater.

At a meeting on 28 August, the Council will consider options for closing the funding gap. If the gap can’t be closed by December (when financial close is due), the project won’t proceed.

Tasman Mayor Richard Kempthorne said the rationale for the dam remained compelling, even at the higher price.

“I would like to assure people that we have analysed all the alternatives over a very long period of time. The dam has always been the only option that meets urban, rural and business need and has been the most cost-effective option. It most likely still is, even at the higher price. That’s something we’ll need to know by the 28th.

“Rainwater tanks and water conservation measures do not meet our water shortfall. Even if every house in the affected area had a 22,500-litre tank we would still have to impose severe water restrictions most summers. We simply can’t store enough water that way to meet the urban demand – and if a dry spell lasts for an extended period there is no way to refill tanks until it rains. I can understand how it seems like an obvious solution but unfortunately those advocating it don’t appreciate the scale of the problem we’re facing.”

Other alternative water storage schemes fall short of the dam because they:

  • Provide for urban water supply only
  • Are still very costly
  • Don’t attract external funding
  • Offer no improvement in freshwater ecology for the Waimea River
  • Are a medium-term solution only
  • Don’t safeguard the regional economy because they don’t provide water for the productive sector on the Plains

Richard said the consequences of not proceeding with the dam were serious, and it was not a decision the Council would take lightly.

“The end of the dam project would signal the start of our new water reality, because it triggers the “no dam” rules in the Tasman Resource Management Plan. Those rules were developed to protect our precious water resource – the Waimea River and its aquifers.”

The new rules will require:

  • Immediate reductions in existing rural water permits – a 27% reduction in the overall water take. That’s likely to lead to a reduction in production on the Plains, and flow-on regional economic effects
  • Harsher summer water restrictions for all water users in nine out of 10 summers
  • No further residential, commercial or industrial growth in Richmond and surrounding areas

“The unsustainable demands we’re making of our natural water resources has driven our search for a way to boost our water supply when we need it most, and the harsher restrictions will come into effect if there is no dam,” Richard said.